Saddling the World's Best

1 decade 11 months 2 weeks ago Monday, November 06 2006 Nov 6, 2006 Monday, November 06, 2006 10:58:12 PM CST November 06, 2006 in Sports

Cristina Heet grew up on a farm and so she knows about horses. She started riding them 18 years ago and is a six-time Missouri State Saddle Seat Champion.

"It kind of gives you a feeling of taking charge I guess because you're up there on a 12-hundred pound animal," she said.

Saddle seat isn't your typical ride.

"You know, anybody can get on a horse and ride. Can anybody get on any horse and ride?"

Got it? Well, stay with me.

Saddle seat is a sport of skill and a whole lot of "luck. You hopefully draw a lucky strand of horses and not some that are crazy that could potentially get you hurt."

The competition judges a rider's ability to make a horse "walk, trot, cantor, slow gait and rack."

There's almost no pre-competition practice. Imagine if driver Carl Edwards had to race a car he'd never driven before.

"And not having there pit crew either. And not knowing if their tires were going to stay on. You know, all those what ifs," said Ellen Beard, executive director of Saddle Seat World Cup.

"I think there's more variables with animals than there are with machines. So you would have to increase that 10-fold," added Heet's coach Brenda Benner.

Heet is not just on the five member Team USA, she's also the captain.

"This is the Olympics of our sport. This is about as high as you can go," said Heet.

"It's her control and her ability to make horses do the correct thing at the correct time," added Benner.

"What we hope to do is make it National. Me participating in it to get there is probably a bigger deal. Knowing that I was part of the process to get it to the Olympic level," said Heet.

And when the heat is on, Heet plans on gaiting away with a world title.

The December competition is in South Africa and Heet's United States team is going to compete against Namibia, South Africa, Canada, and Great Britain.

Three Stephens College women are participating in the event. The college says no other equestrian stable or business in the country can say that.

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